- Powerful available engines and sporty handling.
- Highly configurable, with many body styles and options.
- Spacious and elegant interior appointments.
- Still the benchmark for small sport sedans.
- Pricier than some rivals, especially with added options.
- Optional driver safety technology should be standard.
- Plug-in hybrid’s limited all-electric range.
Would we buy one? Yep!
Vehicle Type: Premium compact sedan, hatchback, and station wagon.
Price Range: $34,445 - $51,545. Pricing includes destination charge.
Powertrain: A 180- or 248-horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder gas engine mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission and rear-wheel-drive (RWD).
A 320-horsepower turbocharged 6-cylinder gas engine, 248-horsepower four-cylinder turbo-diesel, and 248-horsepower plug-in hybrid are available.
Options include a 6-speed manual transmission and all-wheel-drive (AWD).
Overall Score: 8/10
Safety Features: 7/10
The BMW 3 Series scores roughly average in its segment for safety features. Like the Cadillac ATS, Alfa Romeo Giulia, and Acura TLX, the 3 Series comes with few advanced driver aids. The 3 Series doesn’t have a standard rear view camera. To get that and rear parking sensors, buyers have to ante up for the $950 Driver Assistance Package. Forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, pedestrian detection, and automatic emergency braking cost another $1,700. The Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, the BMW’s most prominent competitors, have standard forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking. The Lexus IS comes with lane-departure warning as well.
The tides start shifting in the BMW’s favor when looking at crash safety scores. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is the leading non-governmental organization in the US for testing crashworthiness. The 2017 BMW 3 Series models scored ‘Good’ (the top score) in all vital crash tests. The standard headlights scored ‘Poor,’ while the child seat anchors received a ‘Marginal.’ The IIHS also looks at what is available optionally on cars. The 3 Series with optional driver safety aids equipped got the highest award IIHS offers, the ‘Top Safety Pick Plus.’ The Lexus IS was the only major competitor to capture this award.
The government-run National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the 2017 3 Series a five-out-of-five overall crash safety score. Major competitors also received this score. BMW’s success in IIHS and NHTSA testing helps compensate for mediocre standard safety technology.
BMW’s lack of standard safety tech hurts its bottom-line. Technology options and other additions can raise the price quickly. Some owners find their 3 Series to be handsome, fun-to-drive, and comfortable, yet a tad overpriced when it comes to the included features.
Predicted new-car reliability is above-average for the segment, though BMWs may not hold their value as strongly as some other brands. The warranty is generous, with four-year/50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper coverage. The Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and Alfa Romeo Giulia have similarly lengthy terms. The Lexus IS, Cadillac ATS, and Acura TLX have six-year/70,000-mile drivetrain warranties, giving those cars an edge.
Tech Features: 8/10
The infotainment screen sits perched atop the dashboard. It’s a widescreen 6.5-inch display, operated by a selector wheel on the console to the right of the shift lever. BMW’s iDrive infotainment system is relatively quick and intuitive, though the display itself could be larger. Major competitors come with seven-inch displays. The Audi A4 comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard, rare features for a 2017 model. Apple CarPlay is a $300 option on the BMW, while a navigation system is available for $1,950.
Standard features include a nine-speaker audio system, Bluetooth streaming audio/hands-free calling, HD Radio, a CD player, a front auxiliary input, a USB port, keyless entry/ignition, cruise control, tri-zone climate control, and adjustable ambient lighting. Upper trim levels come with a 600-watt Harman Kardon surround-sound audio system with 16 speakers and satellite radio. Notable options include a WiFi hotspot, wireless smartphone charging, a head-up display, and heated front/rear seats.
The BMW 3 Series may not seem it, but it is one of the more practical cars in its class. The available Gran Turismo hatchback and Sports Wagon body styles give the compact 3 Series more cargo space than sedan-only rivals. While the 3 Series sedan has an average-sized trunk (13 cubic feet), the hatchback offers 18.4 cubic feet of space, plus a large liftgate opening for fitting bulky objects. Best of all is the Sports Wagon, which has 17.5 cubic feet behind the rear seats, and 53 cubic feet with the back seats folded. Adding to the hatchback and wagons’ versatility is standard xDrive all-wheel-drive, making them great for snowy ski trips or navigating rural dirt roads.
Styling & Design: 8/10
The 3 Series has a sleek and modern body reminiscent of larger models like the 5 Series. The cabin’s angled dashboard, subdued interior colors, sport seats, and high-quality materials give it an elegant appeal while remaining driver-focused. Premium leatherette is the standard upholstery on all trims, while leather is available at extra cost. Available amenities include power front seats, driver’s seat memory, power-folding side mirrors, a power sunroof, and LED headlights. Passenger space is among the best in its class, with roomy first- and second-row seats that allow adult passengers to stretch out in comfort.
The 3 Series shares most of its powertrain and interior styling with the 4 Series coupe, though each has distinct exterior styling.
Driving Experience: 9/10
The 3 Series shines on the road. It’s one of the best compact sport sedans to drive, thanks to high-revving turbocharged engines, a quick-shifting automatic transmission, and a front strut/rear multi-link suspension. The BMW is nimble and planted around turns, managing to balance its sharp handling dynamics with a comfortable ride that’s not overly firm or rough. Outward visibility is good all-around. Unfortunately, the lack of standard advanced driver tech means it’s entirely up to the driver’s senses to ensure safe driving. While competitors have gotten much more enjoyable to drive in recent years, the small 3 Series remains the category benchmark for driving fun.
The base BMW 320i’s 180-horsepower engine works quite well for everyday driving, and the turbo gives it a nice boost when passing slower cars on the highway. Stepping up to the BMW 330i means adding another 68 horses, and this transforms the 3 Series into a very fast car. Performance enthusiasts will want to opt for the 340i with its turbo six-cylinder that produces 320 horsepower. All of the trims mentioned can be ordered with the optional 6-speed manual gearbox at no extra charge, and it makes the BMW even more of a thrill. The available 330e plug-in hybrid is one of the most engaging hybrids to drive, while the 328d diesel offers 280 pound-feet of torque and excellent fuel economy.
Most trims are available with BMW’s long-running M Sport Package, which includes a sport-tuned suspension, increased top speed, a race-inspired steering wheel, and performance tires. There is the Track Handling Package for ever sharper driving dynamics, which comes with an adaptive suspension, larger brakes, and variable sport steering. Of course, those wanting the absolute highest driving performance possible from their 3 Series should check out the BMW M3, a separate model.
Fuel Efficiency: 8/10
The 3 Series also excels in the area of fuel economy. The base 320i trim with its small turbocharged motor gets an EPA-estimated 28 mpg combined; the 330i and 340i return 26 and 25 mpg, respectively. There is a diesel engine equipped to the 328d sedan and wagon models, and it gets a superb 34 mpg overall. The 330e iPerformance plug-in hybrid trim gets 30 mpg combined and offers 22 miles of all-electric range; that’s a pretty good range for short commutes, but not much more.